|The Coonoor Connection|
|© 2002 G.V. Krishnan|
In the normal course I would not have had occasion to make contact with Edwin Good in Melbourne, Kathleen Reilly in the UK, Jamshed Batliwala in the US or with Nina Varghese in Chennai. The thing we all have in common is a Coonoor connection. And my web site enabled us to get connected.
I settled in Coonoor over three years ago following my retirement as the Chennai-based correspondent of The Times of India. Edwin, who did his schooling in Coonoor in the 1940s has been places and seen action as a platoon sergeant in a Kenyan Regiment during the Mau Mau rebellion (1953-54). He then moved on to some other African countries before settling down in Australia. But it was his childhood memories that drew him to the Coonoor web site. I call it a people site that seeks to connect the Coonoor-connected. And they are spread the world over. During the last three months of this fledging web site, we have heard from Coonoor folk in Hyderabad, New Delhi, Mumbai, Muscat, Singapore, Madrid and Peru.
Kathleen Reilly in the UK e-mailed us to say that she was planning a visit to Coonoor for the first, and, probably, the only time in her life, if only "to see the place where my dad went to school in the 1930s." Jamshed Batliwala, an old student of Lawrence School, Lovedale, now settled in the US, takes his annual vacation at a Coonoor house he inherited from his parents. But then with every visit he gets "more depressed, with dirt and neglect ruining this place." Jamshed says he comes to Coonoor for "some peace and tranquillity." But he finds himself rudely woken up at 6 a.m. when someone nearby starts playing film music through a loudspeaker, shattering the silence in the neighbourhood.
And then there is Nina Varghese, a Chennai-based journalist, who speaks of her Coonoor days in terms of "long lazy afternoons, fragrant tea with freshly baked biscuit and cake from Alankar Bakery (in Bedford Circle) - Oh, it was a great way to live."
It was during one such "lazy afternoon" I was whiling away time with some young friends in my Vannarpet neighbourhood. They are into computer software work in Chennai and Bangalore and were vacationing in their native Coonoor. We indulged in some kite-flying on connecting Coonoorians through a web site. Their vacation ended and nothing came of the web site idea for several months.
In November last, during a US trip to visit my son and daughter-in-law, I got bitten by the Internet bug, and took up the web site idea with my son, who is not a software expert. But as an accomplished net surfer he "shopped" for a free site-building software provider and we created 'The Coonoor Connection' - http://coonoor.isgreat.net. The next step was to generate editorial interest in the site. It had to be something other than the run-of-the-mill 'touristy' site. Anyway, a really meaningful tourist site (of which there are already so many) would be well beyond my ken. I took to running this site as a home page with a difference.
But then I was well aware that the enthusiasm with which we start web sites is hardly sustained. And cyberspace is littered with the remains of countless home pages that were started if only because site-building software and step-by-step guidance on how to get started is all available for free.
The 'Coonoor Connection,' comprising nine web pages, is designed to sustain itself with interactive input from others. The Coonoor site is basically about four 'I's - Impressions, Ideas, Issues and Information - contributed by those who visit the site. "Seeing Coonoor written about on the web brings back fond memories and wet eyes," wrote Stanley Antony Raj, who schooled in Coonoor and is now based in New Jersey, US.
In the 'Ideas' page we received a suggestion from the Director of the National Rail Museum, Rajesh Agrawal. As Coonoor was the place from where the Nilgiri Mountain Railway started in 1899, he would like to see Coonoorians planning a stakeholders' event on the lines of the one held in Darjeeling in January last. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) was inscribed as a 'world heritage site' by UNESCO in 1999 and the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, which is among the five rail systems in India, can rightfully stake its claim to such honour. The other three are the Kalka-Simla rail line, Kangra Valley Railway and Matheran Light Railway. The world's first railway to be declared a world heritage site is Semmering railway in Austria. Mr Agrawal incidentally schooled in Lawrence, Lovedale.
The 'Issues' page set off a lively interaction on the Coonoor-Ooty divide. A native of Nilgiris and co-ordinator of the Save Nilgiris Campaign posted a message on the Coonoor site saying, "I wonder why Coonoorians and the Ooty people hardly ever work together, though both have a lot of common interest in preserving the culture and environment of Nilgiris." This evoked a sharp reaction from Coonoorian Devidasan, now a software professional in Chennai. As he viewed it, the people of Ooty tended to look down on Coonoorians. Besides, all major agencies pertaining to environment and wildlife protection were based in Ooty and the Coonoor people "hardly get a whiff of whatever is happening."
Another Coonoorian now pursuing higher studies in Bangalore, Ashwini Jayakumar, would attribute the Coonoor-Ooty divide to Ooty being more commercialised and the focus of most tourists to the Nilgiris. "Coonoor and Ooty are two sides of the same coin," says Ashwini, "and the sooner we learn to get along with one another, the better would be the chances of saving the Nilgiris." But then there are cynics who couldn't care less about the Nilgiris or about the Coonoor-Ooty divide, for that matter.
And then there is this person from Ooty who wrote: "Why are elder siblings superior? Senior students senior? Why do Ootyians feel superior to Coonoorians? Because they were there first." I would like to think that we haven't heard the last of this debate. It is such interaction that keeps the site up and running.
Suprabha from Denver, US, summed it up well in her guest book entry that reads: "Maybe a resource directory of some sort (on Coonoor) could be an eventual outcome of this web site."